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Tech firm plans to make COVID-19 test kits at $105M North Charleston campus

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Virus Outbreak South Korea Test Kit (copy)

Vigilent Labs said Thursday it will invest nearly $105 million in North Charleston to make COVID-19 test kits similar to this one. File/AP

A technology firm with ties to the U.S. defense industry said Thursday it will invest nearly $105 million in a facility on the former Navy base in North Charleston that the company says will manufacture COVID-19 test kits.

Vigilent Labs said it will hire 400 workers to produce FDA-approved test kits that can detect COVID-19 antibodies and antigens in 10 minutes or less.

Manufacturing will begin in December and the company said it also will move its headquarters to the site at 1105 Truxton Ave. Vigilent is currently based in Alexandria, Va., near the nation's capital, and it was incorporated in Wyoming

"This new facility will specialize in state-of-the-art health and bio-threat testing, screening technologies and products that will help address the expanding need for reliable and accurate COVID-19 testing to confront this pandemic," John Falk, Vigilent's president, said in a written statement.

Steve Dykes, executive director of Charleston County's economic development office, said the company's work "to address current and future biological threats ... supports a promising future for Charleston County in the technology and life sciences sectors."

Vigilent Labs was formed in February 2019, more than a year before the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. Its corporate registration document states the company was created for "research and development of advanced technology and software for unmanned and autonomous systems and operating an advanced technology testbed for drones, unmanned systems and related technologies."

Vigilent's executives include experts in aerospace and defense, according to the company's website, with experience developing emerging technologies for the military, working with NATO and foreign governments and in testing biological agents for the Navy's Biological Defense Research Directorate.

Two of the company's executives hold secret-level and top-secret security clearances by the U.S. Department of State, the website states.

Falk, a former lawyer, launched a private security firm called Vigilent in 2011 after having founded the U.S. office of Kestral, which provides consulting and logistics services for companies engaged in defense and commercial activities in Pakistan. He previously was managing director of Firecreek Holdings, a consulting group that lobbied U.S. government officials on defense and homeland security issues.

Vigilent Labs is working with readySC to recruit and train prospective employees for the North Charleston operation. The S.C. Coordinating Council for Economic Development has awarded a $1 million grant to Charleston County to offset costs tied to the project.

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Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_